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How Should CIOs Engineer the New Social Enterprise?

What is social enterprise software anyway?

As we know, Chief Information Officers are generally ‘change and upheaval averse' because it is, after all, mostly prudent to resist change. With change comes risk, new user training, new integration challenges and a bottom line with increased cost. But new social enterprise trends cannot be brought to bear without taking the necessary steps that form Business Process re-Engineering (BPE) and its associated evils.

If process re-engineering within the commercial space has indeed developed a bad name, this may be down to the fluffier of the fluffy management consultants who operate in this space. The serious, non-fluffy and very real process of moving to new social enterprise platforms is now a very pressing challenge for many CIOs (and CEOs) who realize that they must adapt to the new way of working practices if they are to optimize efficiency.

What Is Social Enterprise Software Anyway?
The kind of social business tools we are focusing on in this new zone of work practice include:

  • Blogs and microblogs
  • Wikis, knowledge banks and databases
  • Workflow activity tracking tools
  • Forums for community discussion
  • Tagging and bookmarking tools
  • Content recommendation and also people recommendation engines

Stuart McRae is executive collaboration evangelist at IBM, so that basically makes him a social enterprise software tool missionary devoted to explaining why this new obligation to change working practices is so important. The move to social enterprise tools is a bit like the email adoption boom of the early '90s he says. "Comments like ‘we'll never use email' gave way to conversations where CEOs asked their CIOs ‘why do all of my peers have an email address on their business card, but I don't?' - the concept of leveraging social media and networking for internal and external conversations is clearly Crossing the Chasm (in Geoffrey Moore's words), even if it is not yet mainstream."

Dominant Social Manifestations
McRae argues that the cultural, behavioral and organizational changes that will be the dominant manifestations of social business are only just now starting to appear.

We can look back at the last decade of the previous century and see that a massive change in our work methods brought about by the arrival of email was just one of a number of coincidental developments that drove new organizational models in every business vertical.

"[Email] combined with wide area networks, laptops, mobile phones, videoconferencing, mass air transportation and acceptance of English as a common language for business turned work into something you did from anywhere, not somewhere you went. [There has also been a] shift to services industries as the engine of growth and to globalization as the dominant organizational trend in business," said IBM's McRae.

He further argues that today, social media (and ultimately new social enterprise practices) are integrating with the proliferating use of mobile devices, cloud computing, analytics on Big Data and more besides. These factors will now coalesce and be amplified by (in all probability suggests McRae) a congruent set of "non-IT" trends like the emergence of major new world super-economies and mega-cities, low-cost airlines and high speed trains, rural broadband and true "always on" networks.

McRae's Seven Pillars of Social Enterprise Wisdom
For Stuart McRae there are seven pivotal stages, factors and facets of making social enterprise a success and these points may indeed form a checklist that CIOs should now be aiming to target.

#1 - Social enterprise is not a pilot. This is not a rehearsal and firms should realize that the progression to adopt these new tools is an imperative.

#2 - Senior stakeholders (and of course by that we generally mean employees) within the organization need to buy in to the social enterprise mindset and lead by example. It is not an "option" to use social enterprise tools; it is part of the job.

#3 - Closely linked to point #2 is the stipulation that social enterprise tools must be embedded at the heart of work for every user, i.e., social is not something you do as well as work, social is something you do as part of the way you work at the core.

#4 - We need social enterprise to flourish in an environment where there are no silos of excluded individuals so it must be open to all. The only caveat here is that grouped control of certain discussions where a need for confidentiality arises can still be managed. Everyone from the receptionist (or this may be the CEO's personal executive assistant) to the sales director has to get involved.

#5 - There must be integration with the way people work today, i.e., plug ins for Internet Explorer and Microsoft Word, to allow users to blog or integrate with social channels right from the application that they are already used to using. McRae notes that this is core to IBM's product portfolio in this space.

#6 - The firm must continually monitor and look for obstacles that might impede or slow down social enterprise adoption and eradicate and remove these hindrances when they are identified.

#7 - A social firm will need to create and build communities of champions that record their success and barriers as they carry out their own idea generation. Ideas need to pass through a process of (i) suggestion (ii) discussion (iii) voting and (iv) graduation.

Note: It's important to remember that outgoing and gregarious sales directors are often excellent external communicators, but very poor when it comes to their internal messaging. For this reason, the receptionist may win over the sales director in terms of social enterprise champion.

How Do We Get Truly Social?
"In many organizations, successful use of social tools is happening today when small groups of employees with a common pain point figure out how to address them by finding a suitable social platform and focusing on their problem, not the tool. While the choice of a poor tool will prevent success, you will not hear about those projects - just the ones that succeed - and there the selected tool only needs to be ‘good enough' for the specific problem in hand," said McRae.

Social business practices and the wider development of social enterprise platforms and tools by major IT vendors from IBM but also Box, Cisco Systems, Citrix Online, Google, Microsoft, and Yammer are already having a major impact upon the way we work. We, the users, are driving these trends through our own preferences for using tools such as Twitter and Facebook in the mainstream outside of the workplace.

There will be a need to agree upon and implement acceptable levels of net-based etiquette to corral and control our use of social enterprise tools. But as IBM's McRae insists upon asking, "Isn't all etiquette social anyway?" It can't be that hard to be social, can it?

This post first appeared on CIO Enterprise Forum here.

More Stories By Adrian Bridgwater

Adrian Bridgwater is a freelance journalist and corporate content creation specialist focusing on cross platform software application development as well as all related aspects software engineering, project management and technology as a whole.

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